People are economizing. Anyone in the restaurant business can tell you that. The ways they are economizing are getting stranger however. During December we run a promotion "Christmas in January." Dine with us in December, you get a sealed envelope to be opened on a January visit. Each envelope has a certificate for something free in it; free appetizer, dinner for the table, glass of wine, etc. The envelope must be sealed, or the offer is void.
Last night a couple presents their envelope and the server notices it looks like it's been opened, the corners are torn. The guest says, "Oh, I started to open it, but realized I wasn't supposed to." So the server takes the envelope, opens it and there's a certificate for free entrees for the table, plus their receipt for dinner from 2008 (we've done this promotion for a few year, the restaurant across the street copied us this year so we won't be doing it again). Clearly the envelope had been opened. Our server, who is a stickler for the rules, asked me what to do, even though she knew the answer. I told her that once someone has lied to you, confronting them and pointing out the obvious will only lead to an argument, and loss of a customer. So, she took the entrees off the bill.
Her grousing didn't last long. In another server's section a couple said they get emails from us, with an offer of a free birthday dinner that they've been unable to use because they can never make it to our place during the time the offer is valid. We do send a birthday offer to people on our mailing list; bring in at least three other people, during the birthday week, and the birthday guest's dinner is free. Essentially it's a 25% discount and people try to push the edges of this offer all the time. If they don't have a total of four people, we'll buy dessert, rather than dinner. If they come in after the birthday week we will honor it. We're flexible. Anyway, these people said because they haven't been able to use the offer, they were wondering if we could honor a seven dollar gift certificate from another restaurant.
Now there is a certain Nordstrom-style school of thought that tells me to honor a competitor's gift certificate. And I almost did. If it had been a promotional offer, I would have. But, in this instance the competitor had gotten the money, and we would have been giving away the food. So we told them that we couldn't honor the certificate, but we would buy them dessert. The man said, "I don't want dessert. My wife already baked me a cake." Good grief. The other servers were joking, "What's next, people bringing in their Long's Extra Bucks? Someone trying to return a set of tires?"
As a parent I am trying to instill manners, courtesy, and respect for other people in The Sardine. When this is what I'm up against what chance do I have?